The Pot Thief Who Studied D. H. Lawrence
This book is an homage to Agatha Christie’s Ten Little Indians. Hubie – back in the good graces of his alma mater after being responsible for the creation of a large scholarship fund – is invited to give a lecture on ancient Native American pottery to an exclusive gathering of donors invited by the University of New Mexico to a weekend at the Lawrence Ranch north of Taos. He accepts the invitation because it will give him the run of the place where he hopes to find a pot inscribed and given to Lawrence by a famous Taos potter of the 1930s.
A freak late-season snowstorm strands them on the mountain. When one of the guests is found dead in the bathtub of his room with an electric shaver in his hand, opinion is divided as to whether it was an accident or suicide. But Hubie knows it had to be murder. Although the razor is plugged into a regular 120 volt socket, the device on the plug is a transformer, and the razor’s twelve volts couldn’t electrocute anyone. Furthermore, there had been no hot water that morning, and Hubie speculates that no one would choose a bath in icy water over a quick icy shower or even a sponge bath. All doubt is removed when a second victim freezes to death in a walk-in freezer. The guests take precautions against further deaths, but yet another person dies and one disappears, leaving Hubie to solve the mystery.
“That’s utter nonsense,” said Winant. “The man killed himself, a mortal sin that he will pay for throughout eternity.”
“Why do you say that?” asked Glover.
“Because our lives are not our own. Only God can—”
“I’m not interested in your preaching, Winant. I want to know why you think Rich killed himself.” His tone caused Winant to recoil.
“He dropped his electric shaver in the water to electrocute himself. I saw you unplug it before you reached in the water to check his pulse.”
Glover nodded. “I thought you might say that. I pulled the plug because I didn’t know what it was attached to, and I don’t take unnecessary chances. When I lifted his arm, I saw it was the shaver, and I wondered what it was doing in there, but I knew it didn’t electrocute him.”
“Why couldn’t an electric shaver electrocute him?” asked Betty.
“Because it runs on twelve volts, not enough to electrocute a bug.”
“But the cord was plugged into a socket.”
“Yes, but the box on the plug is a transformer that lowers the voltage. The wire to the shaver is only twelve volts.”
“But maybe he didn’t know that. I certainly didn’t, and evidently Winant didn’t know that either.”
Glover furrowed his brow. “You saying he threw the shaver in the tub trying to electrocute himself?”
“It could happen.”
“I suppose it could. But it still wouldn’t kill him, so how did he die?”
All eyes turned to me. I said I didn’t know how he died, and Benthrop asked me in his best indignant tone why I had said Rich was murdered if I didn’t know how he had died.
“Glover wondered why the shaver was in the tub. I did too. There’s only one good explanation I can think of. I think the murderer, like Betty and Charles, didn’t know the shaver was only twelve volts, and he threw it in after he killed Rich in order to make it look like a suicide.”
“That’s it?” said Benthrop. “That’s your logic? No wonder you gave us that lame rationalization for European hegemony this morning. Your brain must be fried from breathing too many glazing fumes.”
“How else would the shaver get into the tub?” I asked.
“Maybe,” said Saunders, “he slipped while he was shaving and fell into the tub with the shaver in his hand.”
Glover pointed out that the mirror and lavatory were four feet away from the tub, and there was no way you could fall from there and end up completely in the tub.“Maybe he had already finished his bath, dried off with the towel, went over to drain the water out, slipped at that point and still had the shaver in his hand,” said Saunders.
“That’s the second reason why I think he was murdered,” I said. “He didn’t take a bath.” I looked around at the group. “Any of you have hot water this morning?” They all shook their heads. “When you discover there’s no hot water, you either take a very quick shower or just a sponge bath. Nobody would submerge himself in an icy bath.”
“Maybe he was in that polar bear club,” said Susannah. She and I started to laugh but stifled it when we saw the looks we were getting from the others.
“A tub full of icy water. A shaver in the tub. I don’t say it adds up to murder,” said Saunders, “but it does make you wonder.”
“There’s something else, isn’t there?” Glover asked me.
“There is,” I said. “Rich shaved with a blade.”